The major source of information regarding the diets followed in the Mediterranean region has been the Seven Countries Study, conducted in the 1960s and 1970s. Data collected among rural men on the Greek Island of Crete in particular, have formed the basis for a healthy-eating model called the Mediterranean diet.
Scope of our study was to address the historical features underpinning the Mediterranean diet, an issue that has been largely ignored. For this purpose, household logs and data on family budgets have been used to extract information regarding food availability and dietary patterns followed in rural and urban Greece prior to World War II.
Regimen compositions among Greeks are compared to published diets of other Europeans during the 19th and early 20th century as well as, to diets of rural Cretans in the 1960s. Results indicate that diets followed by rural Greeks in the 19th and early 20th century, whether specializing in agriculture or in animal husbandry, were characterized by the limited use of animal products and a concomitant high intake of grains and other vegetable sources. Availability of lipids was low and represented 22.0% and 27.2% of the total available energy for the peasants and the herders, respectively. The contribution of the three types of fatty acids to caloric availability reveals unifying characteristics. Saturated fatty acids accounted for less than 10% of total calories in both groups, while monounsaturated fatty acids contributed 8.2% - 9.0% of the enegry. Though the dietary patterns of the 19th and early 20th century are in the same line with the the Cretan diet of the 1960s, an important difference can be traced with regards to the use of olive oil. Prior to World War II, olive oil consumption among rural Greeks was moderate, when compared with consumption levels observed among Cretans in the 1960s.
Antonia-Leda Matalas, Harokopio University, Greece